Why hasn’t the Iglesia ni Cristo endorsed a presidential candidate?

The commentary below was sent to the editor of the Opinion section of a daily newspaper on April 27. It was not published. I thought readers would find it interesting because of its relevance and timeliness. So, here it is.

Why hasn’t the Iglesia ni Cristo endorsed a presidential candidate?

While Vice President Jejomar Binay, former Secretary Mar Roxas, and Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte have met with Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) Executive Minister Eduardo Manalo, and Senator Grace Poe with INC minister Eraño Cordera, the bloc-voting religious sect has not as of this writing endorsed any of the presidential candidates.

Poe, accompanied by former Quezon City Congressman Michael Defensor met with Cordero on March 30. The INC main office is located in the district once represented by Defensor. Poe confirmed the meeting did take place but she said she did not ask for the church’s support. It was simply a brief meeting marked by an exchange of ideas and views, according to her.

INC’s own Eagle News posted online a report that Roxas paid a “courtesy call” on Manalo on April 19. Roxas downplayed the significance of the meeting, saying it was a regular meeting wherein he and running mate, Leni Robredo, presented their platforms and priorities. The Eagle News report also said Roxas and Robredo had met with Manalo previously, on the same day Poe met with Cordero.

Binay went to see Manalo on April 21. According to his spokesman Joey Salgado, they discussed Binay’s programs to lift the poor from poverty and to build a compassionate, caring and competent government.

Mayor Rodrigo Duterte called on the INC head the following day. According to his spokesman, Peter Lavina, the mayor had asked for the meeting to clarify a lot of things, in particular what was circulating in social media – that Duterte did not need the support of the INC. Taken up also in the meeting were Duterte’s programs against crime, illegal drugs, corruption, and federalism.

It is said that since the time of President Manuel L. Quezon candidates for national positions, come election time, ask the executive minister of the religious sect for his endorsement. That is because its members all vote for the candidates endorsed by the executive minister, who has been a Manalo since its founding in 1914.

President Ferdinand Marcos nurtured the INC during his administration into a powerful political force so it could serve as his foil against the Catholic Church which was becoming more critical of him as his rule became more oppressive. He appointed Serafin Cuevas, a prominent member of INC, to the Supreme Court. He awarded Amalgamated Management and Development Corp., two of whose incorporators were Cuevas and his brother Felimon, the contract to produce driver’s licenses, identification cards, and motor vehicle plates for the Land Transportation Office.

The INC stood by Marcos when the people’s call for his ouster got louder and louder. It directed its members to vote for Marcos in the Snap Election of 1986. When the people roundly repudiated Marcos, the sect’s position of influence became tenuous. In the 1992 presidential election it endorsed Eduardo Cojuangco Jr. Once again, the INC’s presidential bet was soundly beaten, the INC’s political influence diminished markedly.

The INC learned its bitter lesson. Never again would it gamble on a candidate who has not been projected by the polls as the eventual winner. Thus, in 1998 it endorsed Joseph Estrada months before the elections. This in spite of the fact that Estrada’s private life is the antithesis to the teachings of the religious sect. Adulterous relationships, gambling of any kind, and excessive drinking are prohibited in the INC. Members found guilty of transgression of those rules are either suspended or expelled.

Estrada has been known to have sired children with several women. He frequented the casinos. His drinking sprees with his close friends were said to be nocturnal occurrences. But the INC endorsed Estrada because the Social Weather Stations (Pulse Asia was not yet in existence then) consistently projected Estrada as the overwhelming preference of the voters.

In 2004 the INC delayed its endorsement of Gloria Arroyo until the last week of the campaign period when she emerged as being ahead of Fernando Poe, Jr, the rumored preference of the INC, by a wide margin. In 2010, it switched from Senator Manuel Villar to Senator Noynoy Aquino five days before Election Day, when Aquino had dislodged Villar from the top rank of the polls as Election Day neared.

It appears that that is how the INC chooses the candidate it will ask its faithful to vote for. It chooses a candidate not on the basis of any moral or political standard but on who the polls show to be the most likely winner. That is why it has given the less discerning traditional politicians the impression that its bloc vote is the deciding factor in the elections.

Binay, Poe, and Duterte have been topnotcher alternately in the polls. While Duterte has been the topnotcher over a number of polls, Political Science professors and sundry other pundits say that a lot of things can happen between now and Election Day that can change the people’s choice of president.

The Iglesia ni Cristo must still be waiting for the Social Weather Stations and Pulse Asia to indicate who among the candidates is the clear frontrunner. Perhaps, it would announce its choice just a few days before Election Day when the two major pollsters shall have projected who the sure winner will be on May 9.

The INC does not influence the outcome of the elections. The survey results influence the INC on who to endorse.

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